THE LEGENDARY MUSICIAN AND SONGWRITER TALKS ABOUT HIS ROLE OPPOSITE MERYL STREEP IN NEW MOVIE RICKI AND THE FLASH
You play Meryl Streep’s lead guitarist in the film Ricki and the Flash. Can you think of a rock ’n’ roll movie you’ve seen that captured the reality of the life?
I haven’t seen any that I go, ‘Yeah, they really nailed that’. And this isn’t a story about a rock ’n’ roll star, it’s a story about a human being who happens to be a musician – and not a very successful one, which is part of the issue.
Is it true all the songs the Flash perform were filmed live?
Yeah, Jonathan Demme wanted us to play live, which is pretty unheard of. Most films, they record it in the studio or at least do overdubs then lip-synch. This was played live in the moment. When I heard they weren’t even going to do overdubs, I started to sweat (laughs).
Besides you, who are the other “real” musos in the movie band?
Rick Rosas was Neil Young’s bass player – unfortunately he died four days after the shoot ended, which freaked us all out. Joe Vitale, the drummer, played with Crosby Stills and Nash. Bernie Worrell was in Talking Heads. And Meryl – I’ve never seen anybody take two months to learn electric guitar, then sing and play and pull it off. It’s actually astounding. She brought it, for sure.
How did you old pros initiate Meryl into the band?
First of all I went, ‘Oh my God, it’s Meryl Streep!’ But the intimidation of ‘Oh my God, it’s Meryl Streep’ has gotta go out the window as soon as you can throw it because that interferes with everything. She initiated herself by being very open and not wearing ‘Meryl Streep’ on her shoulder. She would ask questions about, ‘Am I holding this guitar right?’, so it took some of the fear away, like, ‘Meryl’s asking us something for a change!’.
Was auditioning for Jonathan “Silence of the Lambs” Demme intimidating?
The first audition, this guy sat down next to me and said, ‘I’m a big fan’. I looked at him and said, ‘Oh OK, thanks’. Then something in my head said, ‘Idiot – that’s the director!’ So I went, ‘Oh, Jonathan ...’ He’s such a music fan. The first movie I ever did was a music movie called Hard
To Hold, but it was directed by a guy who hated rock ’n’ roll, and it shows. With Jonathan, I knew the music was in good hands.
You’d had hit songs in Australia, solo and with Zoot, before you moved to America in the ’70s. What led you to try acting over there?
I thought I could make money as an actor while I was waiting for a record deal, honestly. Which was pretty stupid because most actors in class were waiting tables waiting for an acting gig! But innocence is a good thing and I actually did start to make some money as a contract player for Universal. I’d always thought about it – my brother is an actor in Australia and it always interested me. And it’s been much more enjoyable than I thought it would be; I thought it would just be something to pay the light bill.
How did it work in the 1980s when you were touring and acting at the same time?
I would fly out to play on the weekends, then fly back Monday morning to work on General
Hospital. Stupid. I was out of my mind.
What is it about acting that gives you a rush?
Writing a song that you feel you’ve nailed, recording a performance you feel is particularly good and completing a scene that you feel you got pretty close to – it’s all exactly the same rush to me.
What’s your reaction these days when Jessie’s Girl comes on the radio?
I like to hear it – it’s like seeing your son in the crowd. The funniest thing is hearing muzak versions of it in the grocery store.
We often hear about life on the road causing bands to break up ...
That’s why I’m a solo artist!